An Overview of Sustainability
Sustainability is often understood as a respective system’s ability to become self-sustaining, and therefore be free of reliance on external system inputs. In other words, a sustainable system is in harmony with its surrounds as it maintains a balance between necessary system inputs and outputs. In biological systems, the term “sustainable” is used to indicate that the particular ecosystem is able to maintain diversity and life sustaining activities over a long period of time.
Examples of sustainable ecological systems include long-lived forests, wetlands, and healthy marine ecosystems. In current socio-cultural and economic terms, “sustainability” refers to the establishment and upkeep of systems that are designed to support themselves rather than look to external factors in order to endure through time.
Most often, the term is used in the context of developing systems that don’t deplete the resources of another system, thus adversely affecting the second system. For example, a sustainable house will account for its own energy and waste disposal needs, thereby avoiding polluting the external environment and depleting reserves relied upon by other organisms. Sustainability therefore has economic, political, cultural and ecological implications.
Well-functioning and healthy environments play a vital role in ensuring that human demands can be consistently met well into the future. In keeping with the effort to reduce the negative impact that human economic activity has on the larger environment, several gambits have been developed with proper environmental management in mind.
This environmental management approach is largely informed by earth sciences, environmental science and conservation biology. Another strategy that has added significantly to efforts is one that takes the demands of human consumption into consideration; this approach finds its primary source of information in the economic and even behavioural sciences.
Two last factors that are taken into account when developing sustainable systems are the influence of culture and politics on the environment at large: current levels of culturally entrenched consumerism, for example, are often argued to underpin much of the environmental damage seen today. Some estimates believe that up to eighty percent of what is bought in the Western hemisphere is unnecessary expenditure.
It can be seen that sustainability efforts and economic forces are often considered to be working against one another. This is to say that whereas economic forces drive manufacturing and consumption, sustainable living (it is argued) can only be achieved with lower levels of economic activity. This is controversial, however, and many believe that smarter, more ecologically aware manufacturing processes and products will positively contribute to efforts to conserve natural resources. Another gambit used to counter laissez faire consumption is the philosophy of ethical consumerism.
Achieving the goal of a sustainable society is a massive undertaking that involves a broad spectrum of individuals from almost every sector of the social sphere. This includes law, urban planning, development planning and building design, ethical consumerism, sustainable agriculture, business, the manufacturing sector and even the considerable influence of political leaders.